Table Tennis: Tearful MP Lee Bee Wah announces exit

Table Tennis: Tearful MP Lee Bee Wah announces exit

SINGAPORE - Under her watch, the national sports association (NSA) has experienced some controversial moments, but she has also mined gold on and off the court.

During Lee Bee Wah's stewardship over the last six years, the national paddlers have won an unexpected World Team Table Tennis Championships victory, three Olympic medals - one silver, two bronze - one Asian Games silver, 12 Commonwealth Games golds, and 15 golds at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.

The Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) has also managed to raise $10 million in that time, and developed a pipeline to groom future national players.

Even as she made it official yesterday that she would be stepping down as STTA president at the NSA's biennial general meeting on Sept 6, Lee broke down and sobbed as the thought of all those who have backed her.

Speaking to The New Paper after the media conference held at the STTA headquarters at Toa Payoh, she said: "My team had been asking me not to step down, so it's sad to say goodbye!

"But, at the same time, I am relieved that I have found a successor and table tennis is in good hands."

In March, TNP reported that Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC Ellen Lee had confirmed she was approached to take on a leadership role in the STTA.

Lee, who will continue as an adviser to the STTA, was tight-lipped and said the candidate will be unveiled on Aug 25, and could face a challenge in an election.

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"Not many would dare to take over. Now that the candidate is ready, it's better to hand over now," she added. "When I think it's time to let go, I'll let go for the good and continuity of the sport.

"If there is no successor, then it would be disastrous.

"I have learnt a lot, and it's been satisfying. I have a great team behind me. After this, I would like to spend more time in my constituency to prepare for the next General Election."

The MP for Nee Soon GRC did not cite any of the memorable victories - which includes the "Miracle of Moscow", an improbable upset by the women over powerhouses China at the 2010 World Team Championships - as the most satisfying achievement of her presidency.

Her greatest source of pride was the development pipeline that she helped established, which she hopes will one day produce more home-grown Olympians, as soon as in 2020.

The pipeline includes the introduction of the STTA-PAP Community Foundation Kindergarten Table Tennis Programme, seven Zone Training Centres, a Youth Development Squad, the School Within a School Programme and educational opportunities with local and foreign universities.

Endowment and trust funds were also set up to help Singapore-born paddlers achieve their Olympic dreams.

Said Lee: "We have cleared most of the challenges. Now we hope for a change in mindset of parents, that they will support their children who want to pursue table tennis.

"We share similar sentiments, we also want to see home-grown talents become world class. It's difficult to be world-class if you are also juggling studies because the players have to play in overseas tournaments twice a month to get ranking points.

"We hope with the pipeline we have, it will reassure parents and help the talented local-born players... aim to be in the top 50 and be a world-beater."

Despite persistent criticism, Lee is convinced that the initial policy to naturalise talented China-born paddlers was the right way to take the sport forward, before establishing the pipeline to try and develop local stars.

She asked: "Look at our pipeline over the past six years and tell me which NSA has done more than us.

"We can't please everybody. For example, I wanted to field Isabelle (Li) in the women's team final against Malaysia at the recent Commonwealth Games.

"She said she wasn't ready. If I had insisted on fielding her, and she had lost, do you think no one would criticise me. "We have to protect our players. What we can do is to help them gradually improve... and hope Isabelle will be able to take two singles matches at the next Commonwealth Games.

"We must remain world-class and help the local-born players close the gap. If we can replace (a foreign-born player with a local-born one), we will replace."


This article was first published on August 16, 2014.
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